Colleges’ transformational plans to save millions while maintaining high quality
Following lots of creative thinking and hard decisions, the results of the Welsh Assembly Government’s “summer challenge” to the education sector are in, and further education colleges have been commended for their “transformational thinking”.
The “summer challenge” essentially required the education sector to demonstrate new ways of working that will save millions of pounds to the public purse while maintaining high quality learning opportunities and delivering a whole range of services for learners.
Colleges have faced years of challenging budgets and belt-tightening. Colleges are now very lean. But an even greater squeeze on the education and training budget is now expected as we await the Comprehensive Spending Review. Bold plans are needed to ensure Wales’ economy and its workforce survives. Colleges are playing a very active part, seeking to ensure frontline education services are protected by transforming structures and processes.
In his statement on the result of the “summer challenge” which was targeted at all parts of the education service in Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government’s Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, said: “The further education responses in particular demonstrated that some transformational thinking is already taking place that has the potential to deliver the level of cost shift that I want to achieve”.
In less than two years, colleges have taken bold decisions and have rationalised from 25 colleges to 21. More mergers are anticipated. But that is not all.
Colleges across Wales have achieved or are currently involved in a range of actions that are coming to fruition at an ever increasing pace. They include mergers, strategic alliances, development of consortia, shared services, joint appointments and the modernisation of internal processes. Colleges are working strategically with higher education institutions, work-based learning providers and local authorities to improve regional and local delivery of education and training at lower cost.
Chief Executive of ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, John Graystone, said: “The key challenge is to make major efficiencies while at the same time maintaining services, improving standards and giving learners a better educational service.
“Colleges are used to having to tighten their belts. WAG figures suggest that colleges have saved more than £27million over the past seven years through procurement alone. At the same time, the value of each unit of funding has fallen by 23.6% in real terms since incorporation in 1993. Colleges have also absorbed substantial additional administrative and staff costs.
“But now, the challenge of finding efficiencies is on a different level altogether. Financial, legal, structural and logistical constraints all have to be overcome and new cultures established.
“Constantly meeting challenges is a strength of Wales’ colleges. I am pleased that their efforts to meet the public spending challenges and to open new opportunities for learners are being recognised by the Welsh Assembly Government.”